A few suggestions for parents…

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

I have spent many years observing sport…actions both on and off the field.  Coaches spend hours training young athletes in the technical, tactical, and mental aspects of sport on a daily basis.  Everyone has witnessed the purity of sport on fields, street corners, and backyards as young people develop their abilities racing around with friends and possibly even family members playing the sport they love.  On the other hand, we rarely see any type of guidance or training offered to parents on how to foster growth and healthy perspective to these young people who work vigorously for days, weeks, and years to develop their passions.  Here are a few suggestions for interested parents to check-in with themselves and gain some supportive coaching for themselves as parents…

1. Maintain a long-term, balanced perspective.  As much as athletes themselves are trained to stay focused and committed to the present moment during competition, parents can provide tremendous support through the gentle balancing act of athletes maintaining a more balanced perspective on their sport and life.  What are your child’s long-term goals with the sport?  Whether they failed (lost game) or succeeded (won game) are they truly progressing toward this long-term vision?  Is your child better after practice or games because they learned something new about their sport or themself…or is it just about winning, losing, or scoring averages?  Physical health plays a large role in this progress as well.  Is your child risking injury by over-training or over-competing because it’s the “big game” or “major recruiting period”?  Would it be more effective and efficient for your child to compete in less events to better prepare before or take more time after to evaluate themself and their performance?  On the other hand, is your child competing enough to gain valuable experience on how to prepare, compete, and evaluate their performances?  A long-term, balanced perspective will not only help your child grow as an athlete, but as a person.

2. With competitive fuel comes fire!  Give your child some time to decompress after a competition.  They are likely still in a competitive (and reactive) state of mind, which does not lend itself to clear and thoughtful discussion.  You likely know your child well enough…you will see it in their eyes or voice when it’s time to check-in and share some thoughts on the competition.

3. Compare self to self.  Many parents are tempted to compare (and share this comparison our loud with) their son/daughter.  As a parent it’s not easy to hear about how much better Johnny’s parents are than y0u…so keep this in mind when comparing their skills as well.  If you can find something in your own child’s performance that has shown improvement, feel free to share…but remember suggestion #2.  If you see something that could use improvement (which also means his/her coach likely saw it as well), decide what will be your single, most important critique.  Make sure it’s the appropriate time and ask some encouraging questions to get some dialogue going.  “What do think about your approach on the defensive side of the ball today?”  Please also remember that if you ask a question…wait for the full answer without comment.  Stay on that one topic and showing that it’s all about self vs. self, by asking something like, “Is there anything you want to work on to improve that aspect of your game?”  The best athletes in the world consistently compare their own performance now against where they came from in the past.  Improvement breeds confidence.  They also measure themselves against where they hope to go and what it will take to get there.  This also breeds confidence.

4. Support the coach.  In some instances, you as the parent will be a part of the decision-making process on who your son/daughter will train with.  If this is the case…do your research and choose wisely!  Do you and the coach share the same ethical standards and long-term developmental ideals for your child?  Once you have done the research and made a decision, you should feel that your child is in good hands.  There will likely be some bumps and bruises along the way, and do your best to handle these one-on-one with the coach by using their expertise to explain the situation.  Whether you get to choose the coach or not, developing a chasm between that coach and your child will do no good for any party involved.  Again, if a conflict arises or something doesn’t seem right…approach the coach and utilize their expertise.  Yelling and backstabbing a coach will only show your child that it’s OK to disrespect figures of authority.  Do you consider it OK to yell at your boss in the middle of a business meeting…because this might be the message your child takes away from the playing field?!!  If something still seems awkward, have an open and fair conversation with your child and decide on a course of action.

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